Black Sox topple Australia to win seventh men's world softball championship
New Zealand's Black Sox confirmed their status as one of New Zealand's most successful sporting teams after winning the world men's softball champions for a seventh time after a 6-4 win over Australia in the final in Canada.
A bases-loaded grand slam home run to Joel Evans broke the final open late in the match, as the Black Sox kicked out to a 6-3 lead.
The Black Sox - playing in their 10th consecutive world championships - were trailing 3-2 in the sixth inning when Hutt Valley infielder Evans blasted the ball over the fence to score four runs.
Australia came back with a Nick Shailes home run in the final inning but the New Zealanders closed it out amid jubilant scenes after the final out was made by the Black Sox's Australian-born third baseman Tyron Bartorillo.
* Compain cracks grand slam to beat Canada
* Enokas star as Black Sox clinch medal
* Black Sox have shot at seventh world title
* Oh brother, one Enoka for another
* Rona wins 100th cap as Black Sox beat Denmark
* Black Sox suffer first loss
It was a day of personal triumphs for the Black Sox. For Evans, who hadn't been in the starting lineup at the start of the week yet scored two hits in the grand final; for relief pitcher Nik Hayes, who came of age on the mound; and for coach Mark Sorenson became the second New Zealand man to win world championships as a player (four times) and a coach, joining his former teammate Eddie Kohlhase in that select club.
Captain Nathan Nukunuku and veteran slugger Brad Rona joined Sorenson, Jarrad Martin and Thomas Makea as four-time champions at their sixth world championships.
After receiving another gold medal, Nukunuku, 37, learned he had been elected as an athletes representative on the World Baseball Softball Council, the game's governing body.
If this proves his final tournament, it was a fitting way to go out for the Auckland infielder. He and Rona, 41, will leave the Black Sox in fine heart.
Evans and brothers Thomas and Campbell Enoka - who both had important hits in the final - are all in their early to mid-20s.They have plenty of softball ahead of them, as does 28-year-old Hayes - a double gold medallist - and starting pitcher Josh Pettett, 24, teenage shortstop Cole Evans and many more of Sorenson's squad.
Pettett started the final in fine fettle, striking out five Australians in the first two innings while Campbell Enoka gave the Black Sox a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first, after picking a walk, advancing on Evans' slap single and scoring on a caught foul fly in leftfield.
Wellington's Pettett began to falter in the third when Australia struck back after James Todhunter batted in a run and Andrew Kirkpatrick scored another with a sacrifice fly.
Ryan Sinclair batted in Kiwi-born Liam O'Leary in the fourth frame for a 3-1 lead and Sorenson yanked Pettett for Hayes at the top of the fifth.
Hayes showed real composure to bear down on the Australian hitters and break their momentum with a clever variety of pitches, working well with catcher Kallan Compain.
New Zealand closed the gap to 3-2 after Campbell Enoka doubled in the fifth inning and scored and the game came alive in the sixth with one swing of Joel Evans' trusty bat following singles by Laulu and pinch hitter Josh Harbrow.
Hayes struck out two hitters in the top of the seventh and was in a full count cat-and-mouse duel with Shailes, one of the world's top hitters, before the Australian veteran drove the ball out of the park.
It didn't matter though because Kirkpatrick grounded out for the final out and the New Zealanders were world champions for a seventh time.
AT A GLANCE
World softball final
NZ Black Sox 6 Australia 4. Hits: Black Sox 6 (Joel Evans 2 incl HR, Campbell Enoka, Thomas Enoka, Wayne Laulu, Josh Harbrow) Australia 4 (Nick Shailes HR). Pitching: Black Sox: Josh Pettett 4 innings, 5 strikeouts, 3 walks, 3 hits; Nik Hayes 3 innings, 5 strikeouts, 1 walk, 1 hit, 1 home run) Australia: Adam Folkard 6 innings, 5 strikeouts, 4 hits, 6 hits, 1 home run).
Bronze medal match: Australia 7 Canada 3.
Medals: Gold: NZ, Silver: Australia. Bronze: Canada
NZ's overall medals tally (since 1966): Seven gold, four silver, two bronze.
DID YOU KNOW?
* NZ has won gold medals in 1976 (shared), 1984, 1996, 2000, 2004, 2013, 2017.
* This was NZ's first world title in Canada after silver medals at Saskatoon in 1988, 2009 and 2013.
* Black Sox third baseman Tyron Bartorillo has now won three gold medals - one with his native Australia in 2009 and two with New Zealand in 2013 and 2017.
* Dave and Mark Sorenson are the only father-and-son team in world softball's Hall of Fame. Dave captained NZ to a gold medal in 1976. Mark won four as a player and now another as a coach.
* NZ's overall gold medals: 4-Mark Sorenson, Thomas Makea, Jarrad Martin, Brad Rona, Nathan Nukukunu.